Washington: The first open pre-trial hearings with accused 9/11 plotters Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh since the release of a damning Senate report on CIA torture have been postponed until February, officials said.
Mohammed, Binalshibh and two others accused in the September 11, 2001 attacks had been scheduled to appear Monday before a military court in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for the first of two days of hearings.
Lieutenant Colonel Myles Caggins, a Defense Department spokesman, said both hearings were cancelled, and the military judge, Colonel James Pohl, would post his ruling later in the week.
James Connell, a civilian lawyer for Ammar al-Baluchi, another of the accused, said in an email that prosecutors and defense lawyers both had requested a delay until February.
"The issues were resolved in chambers, rather than in open court, because the prison planned to have female guards touch the prisoners, which is an issue the military commission has not yet ruled on," he added.
The prisoners object to being handled by women on religious grounds, which raised the possibility that they would have had to have been forcibly dragged into court.
It would have been their first public appearance since the Senate Intelligence Committee released a detailed report on the CIA`s use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" on detainees in secret prisons after the 9/11 attacks which killed nearly 3,000 people.
Mohammed, the alleged mastermind, was subjected to "waterboarding," a form of near drowning, 183 times, as well as "rectal rehydration" without medical cause.
Binalshibh underwent harsh interrogations featuring waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress position for 34 days after his capture. The report said CIA analysts concluded he was not a senior Al-Qaeda member.
The hearings, however, were not about the Senate report but about a potential conflict of interest that arose in July when Binalshibh`s lawyer learned that his team`s security officer had been questioned by the FBI about their activities.
Pohl responded by suspending the hearings to allow for further inquiry into the matter.
The FBI investigation reportedly stemmed from the leak of an unclassified letter by Mohammed to the Huffington Post and Britain`s Channel 4 News.